페이지 이미지

would have filled up a gap in his life of Cowper. No one who cares for the poet should pass over the Olney chapters of "First Impressions." They form a local handbook to "The Task."

TALBOT. Which, although it touches on themes of universal interest, is pre-eminently the poem of a locality. Cowper never succeeds if he ventures beyond his familiar haunts; he is never so successful as when describing in a modest vein of egotism his own connection with them. There is a short passage in the fourth book, commencing with the 691st line, which I should like to read again, as it forms a part of the poet's autobiography.

"But slighted as it is, and by the great
Abandon'd, and which still I more regret,
Infected with the manners and the modes
It knew not once, the country wins me still.
I never framed a wish, or form'd a plan
That flatter'd me with hopes of earthly bliss,
But there I laid the scene. There early stray'd
My fancy, ere yet liberty of choice

Had found me, or the hope of being free.
My very dreams were rural, rural too
The first-born efforts of my youthful muse,
Sportive, and jingling her poetic bells

Ere yet her ear was mistress of their powers.

No bard could please me but whose lyre was tuned
To Nature's praises. Heroes and their feats

Fatigued me, never weary of the pipe

Of Tityrus, assembling as he sang

The rustic throng beneath his favourite beech."

And then, in one of the most popular passages of the poem, the author shows how the love of Nature's works is born with all, how the London citizen is cheered by a

breath of unadulterate air, how "a garden in which nothing thrives has charms that soothe the rich possessor;" and that "the casements lined with creeping herbs," "the crazy boxes planted thick and watered duly," the broken pitcher, and the spoutless teapot, serve to prove," sad witnesses " though they be


how close-pent man regrets The country, with what ardour he contrives A peep at nature, when he can no more."

STANLEY. The whole passage from which you have culled your extract is beautiful and natural; but we have not yet noticed the most life-like and clearly drawn picture in the poem. I allude to the commencement of the "Winter's Morning Walk." It would seem as though the keen frosty air which brings out in sharper outline each prominent feature in a landscape had similarly affected the pictorial craft of the poet. I will not recite the whole description to which I refer, but take a few lines only, which will serve to recall the whole passage :—

"The cattle mourn in corners where the fence
Screens them, and seem half-petrified to sleep
In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait
Their wonted fodder, not like hungering man
Fretful if unsupplied, but silent, meek,
And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay.
He from the stack carves out the accustom'd load,
Deep plunging and again deep plunging oft
His broad keen knife into the solid mass.
Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands,
With such undeviating and even force
He severs it away.

Forth goes the woodman, leaving unconcern'd
The cheerful haunts of man, to wield the axe
And drive the wedge in yonder forest drear,
From morn to eve his solitary task.

Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears
And tail cropp'd short, half lurcher and half cur,
His dog attends him. Close behind his heel

Now creeps he slow, and now with many a frisk
Wide-scampering snatches up the drifted snow
With ivory teeth, or ploughs it with his snout;
Then shakes his powder'd coat and barks for joy.
Heedless of all his pranks the sturdy churl
Moves right toward the mark; nor stops for aught,
But now and then with pressure of his thumb
To adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube
That fumes beneath his nose: the trailing cloud
Streams far behind him, scenting all the air.”


That is admirable, and as true to the life as a sun-picture. What nonsense Lord Houghton once perpetrated when he spoke at a public meeting of the "languid grace" of Cowper. Why, there is more manly vigour and pith in the Olney poet's verse than in a dozen of our living versifiers, including his Lordship in the number. By the way, STANLEY, when we commenced our talk about Cowper, you spoke of the cluster of poems which preceded "The Task," as though they had done nothing for the poet's fame, and were, in sooth, unworthy of his genius. I was going to question your assertion at the time, but am glad I did not, as I have since met with a fine passage in one of Wilson's Essays, which, with your permission, I will read.

STANLEY. By all means. Wilson's eloquence and

warmth of feeling often led him to indulge in strong assertions. But let that pass. I am quite willing to have my opinion opposed by so eloquent a writer.

HARTLEY. Listen then humbly, as in duty bound, to the utterance of this wonderful critic. 'Twere shame, indeed, not to agree with Christopher; for, although he often speaks vehemently, sound Saxon sense forms the fuel to his fire::

"Cowper was a man, not only of the finest and profoundest sensibilities, but of very strong passions, which, cruelly thwarted and disappointed, and defrauded of their just joy in very early youth, shook the whole constitution of his being, and tainted it with melancholy and madness, or aggravated and brought out the hereditary disease. His later life—indeed almost all his life, after he had reached the prime of manhood-was so calm and quiet in its outgoings to the outward eye, and for the most part was really so indeed: The hearth at which he and Mrs. Unwin sat-the Mary whose tender affection and its uncommon ties his genius has consecrated and immortalizedburned with such a seemingly cheerful and tender uniformity, except when disturbed by thoughts for which at times there was no relief, not even the voice from heaven: The poet was so devoted to his flowers, and his hot-house plants, and his pigeons, and his rabbits-that is to everything fair or harmless in animate or inanimate nature;-His intercourse with the world was so small, it being like that of some benevolent hermit who had sought refuge in retirement from the troubles that beset him in society, without being in the least an ascetic or his sympathies being either deadened or narrowed with the human beings living in another sphere ;-All his more serious studies;-(we make no allusion to his religion, which was more than serious, always solemn and too often dreadful), were of a kind so remote from the every-day interests of the passing time, and even from the intellectual pursuits most popular and most powerful for good and for evil, in the

world which he had so nearly forsaken; His ambition and love of fame, which though deep and strong, and pure and high, because they were born and sustained by the consciousness of genius, that, beyond all things else, rejoiced in interpreting the word of God, as it is written in the fair volume of nature, and in the book which reveals what in nature is hidden, and beyond all finding out, were so linked with holy undertakings and achievements in which God alone should be glorified, that they seem to be hardly compatible with any permanent design of busying himself with drawing pictures of passions rife in common existence, so as to embody moral instruction in a satirical form ;-Altogether there seems something so soft, so sweet, so delicate, so tender, almost so fragile in the peculiar structure of his bodily frame-a spirit of cohesion among all his faculties both of thought and feeling so very unworldly, and such a refinement of manners about him, as may not be called fastidiousness, but rather a shrinking timidity, so that, like the sensitive plant, he was, as it were, paralysed by the least touch of rudeness, and perhaps unknown to his own heart, courted retirement the more to escape the chance of such shocks as carelessness or coarseness often unintentionally inflict ;—That we are not prepared to think of such a being, if such Cowper were, standing forth a satirist of the follies and absurdities of his kind, no less than of their worst and most flagrant delinquencies, and to see him with a bold grasp shaking the blossom of the full-blown sins of the people. Yet this Cowper did; and his satire is sublime. There is not anywhere that we know of in the language such satires as his "Table Talk," "Progress of Error," "Truth," "Expostulation," "Hope," "Charity," "Conversation," "Retirement." Perhaps we ought to call those compositions by some other name; for they are full of almost all kinds of the noblest poetry. Never were the principles of the real wealth of nations more grandly expounded, illustrated, and enforced-national honour, faith, freedom, patriotism, independence, religion, all sung in magnificent strains, kindled alternately by the pride and indignation of a Briton exulting in, or ashamed of the land of saints and

« 이전계속 »